When reviewing equipment some devices stand tall. Usually for their sound quality. Price, functionality, looks and build quality play a part too. Whatever, the device in question brings a smile to the reviewer’s face and stays in the memory bank longer than normal. Occasionally said reviewer dips into his/her pocket for a more lasting relationship.
In the last 8 months – we launched in June – HiFi Starters has unearthed some great kit. The three winners here really distinguished themselves though. Okay we’re being loose on the timescales, some of the winning articles were published in 2023. The reviews all started in 2022 though and hey, what’s a few weeks between friends? So without further ado, here are HiFi Starters’ joint Best of 2022….
WiiM Mini streamer (review here)
Good digital can be had for remarkably little money. Want proof? Try the WiiM Mini streamer – great sound quality and a lovely app for the miserly sum of £89.
It’s tiny, so easy to hide. Just ensure your WiFi is up to it as there’s no wired option. The inbuilt DAC is passable, useful for casual listening. Strap the digital output to an external DAC though and you get knockout sound, arguably all a HiFi Starter needs. It’s certainly comfortable in systems up to £2,000. The WiiM app is also very good; it’s functional, looks good and is a delight to use. And if you want to push the boat out, power the WiiM Mini from an upgraded 5V power supply for even better sonics. Well worth the extra £50 or so.
The only downsides are that reliance on WiFi, and a single optical digital output. The Mini’s big brother, the WiiM Pro, adds wired networking and a coaxial output should you need them. We have one in for review, watch this space. If the WiiM Mini’s specific feature set meets your needs it’s something of a no-brainer though. We are huge fans.
Q Acoustics M20 HD active speakers (review here)
One use-case for the WiiM Mini is pairing it with active speakers, particularly ones with optical digital input. Step forward the £399 Q Acoustics M20 HD, with both digital and analogue inputs, plus high quality Bluetooth (aptX). The M20 HD has amplification built in, so all you need is a source. Opt for the WiiM Mini and you have a complete system for circa £500. Or do like 14 yr old Harry Dale did and pair the M20 HD with a Pro-ject E1 turntable (with phono stage) for a first vinyl system. We’ll look at how he’s getting on in a forthcoming case study.
No device is perfect. An HDMI input would be useful for TV. And the USB connection limits you to Windows or Mac computers, not USB streamers like the Raspberry Pi. Any niggles fall immediately by the wayside when you listen to the M20 HD though. The sound is remarkably good; open and dynamic, with punchy bass that surprises with the depths it reaches. Oh to have had the Q Acoustics when I started on my HiFi journey!
Monitor Audio Silver 100 7G (review here)
Both the WiiM and the Q Acoustics combine mega sound quality with a low, low price. Our third winner maintains the sound quality standard but at £749 does require deeper pockets. You also need room for them to perform; perched on a desk stuffed up against a wall ain’t gonna get the best out of them. It’s simple; the Silver 100 7G is a traditional speaker, benefiting from attention to both setup and choice of partnering equipment.
But what a speaker. It’s beautifully made, stunning in Gloss Black (other finishes available). And the sound quality is truly impressive; beautifully balanced with plenty of detail allied to good dynamics. And bass that led to our friend Darko concluding ‘no subwoofer required’. We don’t disagree.
Our review paired it with a Marantz amplifier and the WiiM Mini for a £1,200 system to die for. When hooked up to a £6,500 Prima Luna amplifier the Silver 100 7G’s performance was nipping at the heels of Graham’s fantastic LS6 speaker. Which costs three times as much. If you can stretch to the Silver 100 7G you won’t be disappointed.
Overall our three winners are the sort of devices that make this job rewarding. Sure, reviewing expensive equipment can be fun (although isn’t always). There’s a real buzz from unearthing something sensibly priced that sounds fantastic though. Where expectations are not just surpassed but blown out of the water. That you can recommend to others without hesitation, confident they’ll feel the same way.
So congratulations to WiiM, Q Acoustics and Monitor Audio; lang may yer lums reek (Google it.) And with that we’ll get back to truffling out the stars of 2023. Thanks for reading.